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Quotations: They're Not Just for Drunks Anymore!
By Bill Wilson   Printer Friendly Version

English scholar Andrew Lang once observed, "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts, for support rather than illumination."

So it is with quotations. Most often they are used to introduce or support a premise made in a presentation, sales pitch or advertisement-just as I was doing above in this article. Unfortunately, if you are using them solely in that context, you could be overlooking the inherent value of the quotations themselves. In fact, I have found quotations to be indispensable aids in developing presentations -- not just as a means of support, but also as a source of "illumination." They can be an invaluable brainstorming and authoring tool, and a vital part of the creative process.

To illustrate, not long ago I was asked to make a short presentation at a three-day regional conference where the theme was "Success in the '90s." To get the creative juices flowing, I pulled out a copy of my favorite book of quotations and searched the section on success quotes. I came across this quote by John Charles Salak: "Failures are divided into two classes: those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought."

Starting with this single germ of an idea, I developed a presentation called "Three Guaranteed Ways to FAIL in the '90s-or any Other Decade." Assuming the other three speakers would discuss how to be successful in the '90s (an assumption that proved to be correct), I decided to take this more novel approach to set my presentation apart from the pack. Since this program turned out to be the best attended and highest-rated of the conference, I give much of the credit to Mr. Salak. His noteworthy and succinct observation saved me immeasurable hours of development time.

After that, even more ideas flowed from his basic premise. Using his quote as a starting point, I came up with three, rather than two, types of failures, and addressed each of them in the form of a "sleep" metaphor:

  • Dreamers - they think, but never do. Those are the Walter Mittys in life who have all kinds of grandiose ideas and brainstorms, but never follow through due to procrastination, lack of self-confidence, etc.
  • Sleepwalkers - they do, but never think. These are the Ralph Kramdens of the world who run with an idea without thinking it through or without taking the time to plan and prepare.
  • Zombies - they never think or do! I can't prove it, but I suspect a demographic survey would reveal that this segment of the population consists largely of people who watch a lot of TV infomercials. More specifically, these are the folks who simply wander through life without any specific goals, aim or purpose.

I then found other quotations on the subjects of procrastination, planning, goal setting and so forth. So, in my own way, I addressed many of the same issues the other speakers did, but from a different frame of reference. And it was this approach-initially fueled by one solitary quotation-that ultimately made my presentation unique. Best of all, my presentation almost wrote itself. What would probably have taken many hours (if not days), took only a few hours, and my presentation, I am certain, was infinitely better because of it.

I'll close with this advice from English clergyman and writer Charles Caleb Colton: "When in reading we meet with any maxim that may be of use, we should take it for our own, and make an immediate application of it, as we would of the advice of a friend whom we have purposely consulted."

So, come on, sober up and take a look at quotations in a new light. You'll find that Samuel Johnson was right -- "Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world." I know it's saved me on many occasions.

Copyright 1999-2000 by William C. Wilson, Jr.
All Rights Reserved.

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